Collins Winn on Shantz, 'A Companion to German Pietism, 1660-1800'

Douglas Shantz, ed.
Christian Collins Winn

Douglas Shantz, ed. A Companion to German Pietism, 1660-1800. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2014. 585 pp. $223.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-22609-8.

Reviewed by Christian Collins Winn (Bethel University) Published on H-Pietism (August, 2016) Commissioned by Peter James Yoder

The present volume represents an important moment for Pietism studies, especially in the Anglo-American context. Gathered together under a organizational schema that shows the creative vitality of the field, leading scholars offer carefully nuanced and well-researched essays in a highly readable form that will be of interest to specialists and scholars of the early modern period. Following a slew of recent publications in English that range across different disciplines, the volume marks a kind of provisional culmination point for a field that is truly entering a new phase of maturity, while pivoting to gesture toward new horizons for research in Pietism studies.

Douglas H. Shantz’s short introduction largely bypasses the more recent debates between Johannes Wallmann, Hartmut Lehmann, and others regarding the definition and chronology of Pietism. Rather, Shantz opts to allow contributors to work from multiple perspectives regarding the definition and chronology of Pietism, a strategy that certainly tests the boundaries of the volume’s title, but which also highlights the remarkable ferment and multiple perspectives among researchers in the field.

The book includes sixteen chapters organized under four headings. The first section focuses on the “theological world” of Pietism, though one would be mistaken to assume that essays in this section merely engage theological topics. Instead, most of the essays deal with something more like the “theological culture” promoted and pursued by different Pietist groups. In the opening chapter, “Pietism and Protestant Orthodoxy,” Markus Matthias demonstrates that figures like PSpener, AFrancke, and others reconstructed the Orthodox tradition, of which they were heirs, by shifting their methodological allegiance away from the Aristotelian scholasticism of the post-Reformation period toward a more historically, ethically, and experientially attuned approach. The result was that Pietists not only came up with new answers, but new questions, and that if taken as a whole, Pietism should be interpreted as a “fundamentally new approach to Protestant theology” (p. 42).

Fred van Lieburg traces the Dutch influence on the advent and development of German Pietism. The chapter sketches a useful “prehistory” of several of the key ideas found in Spener’s Pia Desideria found amongSpiritualists, Puritans, and Calvinists in the Low Countries well before 1675. For van Lieburg, Spener’s unique contribution is the novel configuration in which these themes were placed and, most importantly, the fact that Spener remained silent, “regarding the magistrate’s role in church renewal, a point of contention in a confessional state” (p. 69). As a nice companion to van Lieburg, Peter Vogt’s chapter offers a useful case study for thinking about religious tolerance among Pietists in regard to Jews. Though far more positively disposed towards the Jewish community than their Lutheran Orthodox colleagues, the history sketched shows that Pietism cannot, as a whole, be described as Philosemitic, as earlier scholarship had done. Rather, Pietist conceptions of Jews and Judaism can be found along a continuum which moved from a proselytizing view (i.e., Jews were potential converts), to a significatory or instrumental view (i.e., that a great conversion of the Jews to Christianity was to be expected as a sign of the impending eschaton), and most radically to an affirmation of the validity and integrity of Judaism and the Jews because of the Abrahamic-Mosaic covenant. Vogt’s essay helpfully complicates our understanding of the kind of tolerance that Pietists were willing to entertain.

Astrid von Schlachta’s chapter contemplates the limits of community and identity by focusing primarily on the influence of Pietism on Anabaptist communities in Europe and North America. In contrast to the earlier scholarship of Robert Friedmann, von Schlachta offers a nuanced historical assessment that describes a variety of points of theological connection, as well as fascinating and controversial personal and communal encounters from the late seventeenth through the early nineteenth century. Claus Bernet’s contribution deals with Pietist chiliastic, paying special attention to the utopian roots and dimensions of Pietist “hopes for better times.” He shows that Pietist art, architecture, social institutions such as Francke’s Halle orphanage, and socialistic communities like Korntal and Wilhelmsdorf in Württemberg all bear the marks of a uniquely Pietist chiliastic utopianism. Nonspecialists, who continue to labor under the notion that Pietism was only socially and politically conservative, passive, and quietistic in regard to the social and political order, will find Bernet’s work especially helpful.

Tanya Kevorkian’s chapter, “Pietists and Music,” opens the second section of the book on the devotional and experiential world of Pietism. Working from a transatlantic perspective, Kevorkian shows that though all Pietist groups had a deep affinity for hymn-singing, judgments about music broadly conceived were more diverse and context-specific. Ryoko Mori considers conventicle practice (collegia pietatis), one of the defining characteristics of Pietism. The appearance of private meetings in Frankfurt, and later in Leipzig, was not only innovative and constitutive of Pietist identity and practice, but they were also extraordinarily controversial. The voices of established authority found the conventicles repellent for the very same reasons that participants seemed to have found them attractive: the possibility for laypeople, both men and women from varying classes, to come together to read and interpret the Bible, discuss the sermon, pray, edify one another, and sing together as an expression of a living Christianity.

Scott Kisker’s chapter, “Pietist Connections with English Anglicans and Evangelicals,” surveys the interconnections between German Pietism and various English-language pietistic movements, offering an argument that highlights the problems with too narrowly defining Pietism. Kisker focuses on the well-known fertile connections between the Society for Promoting of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), the Religious Societies movement in England, and Halle and Moravian Pietism, all of which contributed to the flowering of later Evangelical and Methodist revivals. Kisker describes a “knot of historical threads ... impossible to unravel” (p. 231), and thus he appeals for a more expansive understanding of Pietism. Dovetailing with Kisker’s chapter, Steven O’Malley offers a consideration of Pietism as a subset of the larger phenomenon of religious revival. The central theme of revivalism is defined as a fivefold phenomenon that is diasporic, prophetic, confessional, able to concretize earlier mystical spirituality, and focused on a resurgence of the Spirit of Pentecost. Using this schema, O’Malley offers a comparative analysis of specific European and North American Pietist and revivalist movements, surfacing important commonalities, though leaving undeveloped the important differences.

Jonathan Strom’s “Pietist Experiences and Narratives of Conversion” opens section 3 of the book on the literary and cultural world of Pietism. Strom challenges the well-known assumption that conversion and conversion narratives were central to early German Pietism by showing that there was “no consensus on the meaning of conversion or the utility of conversion narratives in Pietism” (p. 293). As he notes, Spener “never advocated the necessity of a conversion experience” (p. 306), and even among Halle Pietists—often considered the most conversion-centric form of Pietism—there were considerable differences. Strom’s contribution helpfully problematizes accounts of Pietism that may configure the movement as merely the expression of a “conversional piety.”

Drawing on translation and transfer studies, Douglas Shantz argues that Radical Pietists employed the intellectual strategy of translation as means to disperse among the wider reading public texts perceived as spiritually potent and capable of generating more radical forms of Christian discipleship. Addressing three questions, “What was translated? With what intentions? And in what manner were the translations made?” (p. 319), Shantz considers the translation work of Gottfried Arnold, Johann Otto Glüsing, and Gerhard Tersteegen. The essay may be helpful to scholars of World Christianity, which following Lamin Sanneh and Andrew Walls currently focuses on the normativity of the “translation principle.”

In “Pietism, Enlightenment, and Modernity,” Martin Gierl considers the inherently modern structure of the Pietist vision, practices, and institutions. Critically surveying earlier scholarship, Gierl argues that Pietism was part of the larger social process of modernity, and that the disciplinary logic and “technologies of the self” that formed the modern individual, find their religious correlates in the praxis pietatis. Likewise, as Enlighteners defined and disseminated their ideas via a “republic of letters,” the identity and technologies of self-creation and policing of Pietists were also constituted through the use of similar networks of communication. As Paul Peucker shows in “Pietism and the Archives,” such communication had to be collected, collated, and carefully curated. Through letters, journals, mission records, testimonies, correspondence, membership catalogues and the like, an archive was the physical embodiment of an imagined spiritual community, offering a—heavily curated—historical account of the perceived spread of the kingdom of God.

The final section, on the social-political world of the Pietists, begins with a significant chapter by Ulrike Gleixner on the growing conversation around Pietism and gender. The chapter highlights the communicative practices of letter writing, autobiography, and journaling that were especially available to aristocratic women, while also discussing visionary and prophetic discourses that played a significant role among more radical groups, which were accessible to women from various strata of society. What emerges is a complex portrait of women relatively unconstrained in their endeavor for self-definition and modest forms of religious leadership.

In contrast, Benjamin Marschke’s chapter, “Pietism and Politics in Prussian and Beyond,” offers an outstanding example for how to rethink old narratives. Marschke overturns the consensus of a “strong and enduring alliance” (p. 481) between Halle and the Prussian monarchy. Detailing the non-Pietistic character of Frederick III/I and the frequent incompatibilities of the respective political and ecclesial aims pursued by Halle and the monarchy, Marschke demonstrates that not only was the elder Francke’s relationship with the crown up and down, but after his death in 1727, the temporary alliance created in the 1720s virtually collapsed. The chapter makes clear that “the relationship of Pietism and Prussia is best understood as a marriage of convenience” (p. 488).

The final chapter, by Craig Atwood, “German Pietism and the Origin of the Black Church in America,” draws on the important work of Jon Sensbach to discuss the role of Moravians in the creation of the first Afro-Protestant church, located in the Danish colony on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas. Those already familiar with the history will know the remarkable and forward-thinking beginnings of the mission, as well as the eventual turn away from the original egalitarian vision to an accommodation with slavery, racism, and the sociopolitical structures of white supremacy. As Atwood describes, this same pattern can be discerned on the US mainland, and not only among Moravians, but also Methodists and Baptists. In spite of this, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American agency and the liberative themes of Pietist “heart religion” proved decisive in the creation of Afro-Protestantism.

A Companion to German Pietism, 1660-1800 will prove especially valuable to graduate students and specialists in Pietism studies. All of the articles are well written, with ample textual and evidentiary support. Additionally, the inclusion of Atwood’s contribution blunts what might be the only significant problem with the Companion: the relative lack of reflection on Pietism and mission. Overall, the volume succeeds in offering an assessment of the current state of the field, while also pointing to numerous vistas for further research. It is a timely and outstanding contribution and is to be warmly received.

Printable Version:

Citation: Christian Collins Winn. Review of Shantz, Douglas, ed., A Companion to German Pietism, 1660-1800. H-Pietism, H-Net Reviews. August, 2016. URL:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.